How to Prepare to Leave

Letting Go

Here, I’ll share my preparations for the journey since it might be useful to someone contemplating a move from one house to another or across the country on a similar journey.

First of all, I didn’t accomplish preparations all by myself.  I’d joked for years about having a big bonfire of all my collected “papers”–personal papers, teaching handouts (approximately one file for each course taught each semester, etc.  Not to mention notes saved from classes taken as an undergraduate and graduate student.  Oh yes, I was a paper junkie!

The First Time

When it came time to get ready to go and live in Bulgaria beginning in August 2008, I decided to get rid of 85-90% of all my belongings before leaving.  A similar process took place before the current 2011 journey, but much reduced in scope, thanks to that original preparation for leave-taking.

It took about 2-3 months the first time to work through all my stuff in order to get rid of most of it.  The majority of belongings not given away or sold (both online and in a garage sale) “left the building” for the garbage in one fell swoop in about 25 large black plastic bags.

Originally, while going through past teaching files, I saved two copies of each handout from each class—one for me, and one for a colleague, Cody Brady, president of SIETAR Austin, an intercultural educators group, when I was vice president for 2 years.

Cody helped me go through papers several times, while also enthusiastically encouraging me in my plans for an extended trip abroad.  Her personal payoff was a copy of each handout and helping a friend, and her help was priceless.

At one point, desperately packing up kitchen things, I called Cody for moral support.  I’d become mired in all the chores of packing and divesting myself of my possessions and depressed about getting through the last packing stages, which included boxing up all my kitchenware for storage, giving away, and a garage sale.

Cody made one more trip to my place and served as my last-minute encourager/packing manager.  She less invested in my things personally, so could be more objective. And she was fast and efficient and made it fun to do with her ready enthusiasm!  With her help, those kitchen “things” got packed up and dispersed.  The job became progressively smaller and, finally, was 99% done.

In the end, I even tossed out my own copies of the saved teaching handouts.  I’d figured out I didn’t need them, even if I took up teaching again.

What I Learned

It was something Cody said that made all the difference. She said, “It’s all on the internet now anyway!”  True.  And still true today, if not more so!

There is still some stuff I’d count as “irreplaceable” (old family photos, my grandmother’s letters).  I had to decide what, among such things, was better to keep and what to let go.   These were difficult decisions and I sometimes made such decisions only “halfway,” as when storing things with a thought to dealing with them later.  Still, even among the “irreplaceables,” I find ways to divest.

Like I said, I’d joked about a bonfire for years.  Instead, I found that, over the years and these several experiences of leave-taking, I’ve developed a steady stream of a variety of ways to divest myself of belongings all the time—giving some things away, to close friends, relatives, and strangers (my current neighborhood has a practice of putting things out by the curb for people to pick up if they want); tossing other things in the garbage; recycling some; storing; selling; and all the while considering what’s truly irreplaceable or worth keeping.

After the most recent clearing out, I felt liberated in more ways than one.  I still have a few paintings and family mementos (but even some of those, I found, could be distributed among close relatives).  I still have lingering address books collected over the years that I plan to put in order and transfer to online storage in the future, and sooner rather than later, thus eliminating the last of my paper junkie ways!

But what’s gone I don’t miss.  Previously, I’d “lost” some stuff from a storage near Elgin when I first moved back to Austin.  I couldn’t keep up payments, but had previously moved things into a smaller storage unit after tossing out a huge amount.  So, I’d gone through most of it and taken home any “valuables.”  It was another kind of letting go, one initially regrettable, yet also ultimately liberating.  And perhaps my first lesson in this kind of letting go.

In the process of intentionally getting rid of things, I learned that I could “gift” others with many of the things I felt were too nice or too valuable to throw away.

It has felt really good, and sometimes oddly appropriate, to gift things to particular groups and individuals.  For example, I just gave my bicycle to Hostelling International in Austin a few weeks ago.

The bike can now be used by hostel guests from all over the world.  It isn’t a fancy bike, a blue Target mountain bike with fun Austin-y bumper stickers—reading “Keep Austin Weird”; “SOS-Save Our Springs”; and” Keep Austin Reading.”  I take a great deal of pleasure in imagining others riding this bike around Austin.

Motivations for Having and Getting Rid of Things

Things or, the “stuff” of life, are infinitely replaceable.  This includes even objects to which we imagine having a special attachment—original art, nice kitchenware, personal mementos, clothing, etc.  I learned in traveling that you can literally buy almost anything you think you need anywhere. There were even second-hand stores near where I was living in Bulgaria.

When I got rid of 90-95% of my “stuff,” it was with the added impetus of leaving Austin for Bulgaria.  I just knew I couldn’t take all of it with me!  So, I had a special drive toward divesting myself of “stuff” and “things.” Still, the impetus can just as well be wanting to clear a space in your home or your mind.

I still enjoy second-hand store shopping.  When I returned to Austin after 5 months in Bulgaria, I easily replenished my basic needs as well as the need for some “nice” things and fun things with which to “pad” my life and surround myself in comfort and beauty.

I believe I’m still a “collector” type of person or your basic “hoarder” (an uglier term with its own hate-of-hoarding reality tv shows these days)   Now, however, I know how to “recycle” all kinds of things and more easily get rid of things.  As people say, it’s always easier after your first time!

Suggestions and Resources

Here’s what I’d suggest for someone wanting to do something similar: First, if you don’t have a great friend ready to give time to your efforts to divest yourself of “stuff,” hire someone to help. There are personal assistants and organizers ready to tackle your “stuff” and they are expert at doing so. They’ll make it seem easy, not difficult.

I just read the article, “Gofer Does Your Bidding For a Price,” from the August 28, 2011 Sunday Business Section of the New York Times [>].  This article provides online resources for various kinds of personal assistance, including organizing, unsnarling “personal chaos” in terms of belongings, personal scheduling, shopping, etc. and, getting rid of inessentials, etc.

It’s not easy to undertake a truly radical divestment of personal belongings. But I think most people find such an effort worth doing in the end.

What happens when you do divest is that you become instantly more mobile.  You find that you are not tied to your things and their maintenance in the same ways as before.

Also, you aren’t distracted by your things or over-involved with them to the extent that you find yourself glued to one spot.
Instead, as the things themselves move (out of your life), you also create space for movement of your own–into new areas of daily living, including new activities, new friendships, cultivating old friendships and/or traveling.

One crucial thing making it possible for me to undertake extended travel has been precisely reducing my “attachment” to things. 

But you don’t have to get rid of 90-95% of your possessions to realize this benefit. Just deal with the excess. Get rid of 25%. 40%. 60%. Clear a space.

Start small. Take a corner of one room and deal with what’s essential and what isn’t. Clear the space of inessentials.

Getting rid of inessentials can free you up emotionally, physically and psychically.  That much lighter, you are now free to fly away or stay, but with much less holding you down or back.

Whatever you do, once you’ve divested to a certain extent, you will feel much less of that particular burdensomeness of “stuff.”

Without our knowing it, “things” bind our days through our conscious concerns with them and, subconsciously, through secret attachments to unresolved issues represented by our things, and all the other ways we involve ourselves mentally and emotionally with our “stuff.” 

Once gone, so are the worries!

 From Things to Relationships

Even when embedded in relationships you value, it’s possible to do things you want to do without depending on changing the mindset of others.  You can make your own decisions.

Making decisions to do things now might change, or not change, the dynamics of some or all of your relationships, which can be good for everyone . . or not.  It’s always a risk to do most anything—even to decide to step outside you own door. 

Sometimes, we don’t know how we may be holding ourselves, or others, back through our fears or their fears of taking risks. But we can’t live in the future, though we can live toward the future. Where we live is always in the now.

As a senior citizen, I’m well acquainted with the need to decide things now rather than later and the need to make life decisions adequate to my desires and dreams now. . . since, as we all well know but choose to ignore,  none of us are here forever.  In a way, it’s always. . .now or never.

Taking Leave and Having Touchstones

We are also always in a process of leaving and leave-taking.

As small children, we step beyond our parents’ grasp to explore, then run back to them for assurances.  It’s good to have touchstones and assurances.  They help us explore our world while staying grounded in a stable reality and they help us grow more fearless. The older we get, the farther we go as we explore, grow, and gain experiences.  Yet we feel a need, even as adults, to return to some felt solid ground of relationships, community, and/or place.

Family and friends will many of them serve as such touchstones if only we let them.  It’s good to have some strong ties to fall back upon when necessary.  And it’s good to provide a place for others to return to so we can remember ourselves and our ties, where they and we, can “locate” ourselves as we are now or were in the past.

As adults, we provide this touchstone service reciprocally.  In reality (you know whose couch you can rely upon) and in spirit (you know who will listen to your latest tales).

That’s the code I operate under these days—that it really is now or never—and yet I still go through “delays” often of my own invention.

Changing My Mind and More Lessons Learned

This trip was delayed for 2 years.  At first, I thought I needed my own transportation for travel.  I could see that this just wasn’t happening on a small Social Security income and minor part-time job supplements.

Finally, I “saw the light” and transformed my own thinking, as follows:

First, a car, truck, camper would probably be a liability, not an asset, and a costly one at that.  Instead, it would be best to go by bus and the occasional plane, which would prove cheaper in the long run, and also be more ecological, another way to ‘travel lighter’ upon the earth.

Once this new thinking was in place, everything else fell into place, too.

So this is the story of my attachment to “things” (I’m still attached–but now see that it can sometimes make me happier to give something away than to try to hang onto it.

In the end, a switch in thinking let me be able to let go  of the things I needed to let go of in order to take this journey:

“What do I have that someone else might make better use of and appreciate more?” is the question I now ask myself in regard to thingly attachments.

There’s personal satisfaction and gratification in giving stuff away, even to people I’ll never know.  It takes giving to a different level than donations and becomes personal for me to “gift” others.

To prepare this time, I went through my closets 4 times before getting ready for this trip, beginning in last spring.  The majority of clothing went to my landlady, Nancy O’Neill, who gives of herself and works tirelessly as a volunteer family, teen, and child advocate. She was able to pass the things on to local groups with which she was involved.

A few selected items, beyond those stored, went to my sister and close friends.  And one friend is storing what’s left. Two small closets contain my remaining “things.”  These include old family photos and other genealogical materials, my mother’s and  my grandmother’s letters, clothing I kept but won’t need traveling, and various other things I decided to keep for later.

And, hey, now my things are only taking up space in two small closets somewhere and not even filling them completely.  That feels good.  There will be less stuff to move or deal with later, should I ultimately relocate.

In Sum, it’s always your life, no matter who you share it with or where you are, and no matter how much “stuff” you have or share.

And it’s always “now or never.”


About jillscherb7

Retired intercultural educator & speech/English faculty; traveller to China, Europe-France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Mexico (who's lived in China & Bulgaria); lover of books, poetry, film, narratives, music & art; sometime book reviewer; and Austinite (Texas, U.S.A.)
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